Chávez: Recovering Castro 'almost jogging'

The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, is recovering from his long illness and has been walking and "almost jogging" in recent days, his friend and ally the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, said yesterday.

The Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, is recovering from his long illness and has been walking and "almost jogging" in recent days, his friend and ally the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, said yesterday.

Mr Chávez also produced a letter, which he said Mr Castro had written to him this week, arguing that the signature was evidence the Cuban leader was not dying.

Holding up the letter, he said: "I'm going to show you something, for those who say that Fidel is dying, that he can't talk, that he can't move."

Television cameras then zoomed in on the letter and on Mr Castro's signature, in black ink. "Look closely at the strokes of the signature. We are extremely happy, Fidel, about the news of your recuperation."

The Spanish newspaper El País reported earlier this month that the recovery of Mr Castro, who has not been seen in public since July, had been complicated by a series of failed operations. El País said the 80-year-old was "gravely ill".

Mr Chávez was much more positive in his remarks about Mr Castro yesterday than he was a few days ago, when he said the Cuban president was "battling for his life".

The Venezuelan president was speaking yesterday at a ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela's capital, with Cuba's vice-president, Carlos Lage, in which the pair formally agreed greater economic ties between the two countries.

Despite Mr Castro's absence, Mr Chávez and Mr Lage sought to give Cuban leader prominence. The Venezuelan president said Mr Castro's letter was about the integration deals, which underpin the two nations' anti-US alliance.

"We are really pleased, Fidel, with the news that we have received about your recovery," Mr Chávez said. "Lage told me Fidel walked for I don't know how many minutes yesterday [Tuesday]. And he's walking more than I am, almost jogging. Maybe he's walking while watching us."

Mr Lage said Mr Castro would be around for "a long time to come" and joked he would outlast his younger brother, Raúl, who has been in charge of the communist-run island since Fidel had stomach surgery last year.

Mr Chávez and Mr Lage signed deals to develop production projects involving nickel, electricity and rice as well as to construct within two years a fibreoptic cable between the two Caribbean nations.

"Every day, our unity grows," Mr Chávez said, noting that the two countries had forged 21 joint ventures as they deepened their already strong ties. Directing his comments to the US government, he added: "When they threaten Cuba, they threaten Venezuela also."

Life in Cuba has continued virtually unchanged since Mr Castro announced on July 31 that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally relinquishing power to Ra&uacte;l, the 75-year-old defence minister. Mr Chávez has regularly reported on Mr Castro's health since the end of July.

In Havana, some Cubans expressed frustration, others apathy as the president remained unseen six months after handing power to his brother. "We need to give him [Ra&uacte;l] time, to see what he does," said Joaquín Hernandez, a 70-year-old resident of the city.

"Ra&uacte;l is more family oriented, so he might reach out more to the Cuban people to better understand their problems. He is also more approachable and seems to listen more to his advisers."

The caretaker government has done nothing to lighten restrictions on freedom of speech or to make any significant reforms of the troubled economy.

Fidel Castro continues to be mentioned in the state media as if he were still a constant of daily life, albeit often through historical articles. "Fidel took Caracas," read the top headline in the Communist party newspaper, Granma, on Monday, recalling the huge welcome Venezuelans gave him on his first visit to their country in 1959.


Mark Oliver and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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